The arrival of the railways heralded a radical transformation in the lives of millions of people, affecting where they lived, how they worked, and what they knew and thought about the world. Building and running the railways required huge numbers of people, who formed themselves into tight-knit communities, forging new identities that gave meaning not just to their own lives, but to those of their families as well. This topic examines the lives of the engineers who designed the railways, the navvies who built them, the men and women who worked on them, and the ‘railway towns’ they made.
Such pioneering men as Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the British railway system in the mid-nineteenth century. In later years design was associated with teams rather than the charismatic individual, and engineers would lost much of their public profile. > more
The British railway system was built by teams of itinerant navvies who came to form a distinct group, set apart by the special nature of their work and lifestyle. By 1850 they numbered a quarter of a million workers – a force bigger than both the Army and Royal Navy. > more
With 620,000 people working on the railways in 1900, railway work fashioned individual lifestyles and identities. Towns such as Swindon or Crewe became so dependent on the railways that they became known as ‘railway towns’ > more